East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

How to keep reading while broke


Reading is a vice, a habit that is hard… nay, it’s impossible to lose.
I’ve been a reader all my life, I started at six and never came back. Comics, novels, non-fiction, magazines, blogs, the sides of corn flakes packets…
When I was in high school I skipped lunch to save money for books. But it was easy, because I knew I’d find dinner prepared when I got back home.
When I finally got a paying job, I set myself a monthly allowance for books.  Something around 100 euro – which means five hardbacks, or eight/ten paperbacks, or a whole lot of ebooks per month.
When the going got rough, around 2014, I cut that back to fifty quids, then to twenty. And that allowance had to make room for Kickstarters, too.
Then, back in May this year, things turned real bad, and I was at 0 money for entertainment – because putting bread on the table and paying bills was more important that buying books.


Basically it meant going cold turkey.
But not really. I found a way around that, too, and kept reading.
Now things are better, I have a 10 quid monthly allowance for my books, and what follows is a list of strategies I used and I am using to keep reading while broke. How to get my fix, if you will.
Maybe someone is interested.
And you are invited to add your tricks and tactics to save on books in the comments.
Let’s go.

piracy-512First, the obvious – you can steal ebooks off the web, using peer to peer etc.
It’s done, we can’t hide from the truth. And some authors said it’s all right – Paulo Coelho, for instance. It’s a form of publicity.
And as an author, when I had my books pirated and was royally pissed off, there were those that said

It’s a sign you made it, you are popular

Well, no.
I can believe (for a moment), that when you are selling five figures, a few dozen pirated copies are uninfluential or even work as publicity, but for small fry authors – or for niche authors, if you prefer – for people that sell a few dozen books to start with, a few dozen pirated copies means a lot.
So, of course, you can do as you please, but I will not tell you how to find pirated books.
I won’t make your pirating easier.

So, legit ways to find free books

Obviously, Project Gutenberg, Project Gutenberg Australia and OpenCulture are your first stop.
I’m sure there are other sources -please point them out in the comments.
Gutenberg is great if you like classic adventure fiction and pulp, and dig authors like Talbot Mundy, or Conan Doyle, or Lovecraft. And the classics, obviously.

Then, NetGalley.
For the uninitiated, NetGalley is a service that provides ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copies) of current books in a variety of genres, in exchange for fair reviews. You register, sign up for the genres that you like, you can put a “Like” of publishers you favour. Then you browse the catalogue (which is updated frequently), you choose what you’d like to read and then you ask for it. A lot of titles are readily available, others need approval.
Nice and smooth.

There are other services like this – that is, ebooks in exchange for honest reviews1.
We’d all be happy to learn about them (comments, remember?)

Goodreads allows authors and publishers to have book giveaways – I never tried it, but it could be a nice way to get some free reading matter.


Then – I get a daily digest from a free service called BookLemur, posting me a list of discounted or free books in the genres I like.
Once again, I know there’s a lot of newsletters like these – BookLemur is the one I started using, but please post your faves in the comments.

And here I’ll give a shoutout to Endeavour Press, a British publisher that offers free ebooks to its newsletter subscribers. If you are into genre fiction, thriullers, and historical fiction, you might like what they are offering.

Let’s raise the bar a little – reading for under five bucks.

StoryBundle and HumbeBundle both have special offers of bundled books with a Pay What You Want formula. Lots of interesting stuff, including comics, for very little, and part of the dough goes to charities, which is great. They also bundle non-fiction, another great thing.
Bundle of Holding does the same thing for roleplaying games and occasionally for gaming-related fiction.

Kickstarter might surprise you – often the lower tier for book Kicks is around 5 euro, and you get an ebook version of the book in question, plus perks and add-ons and whatnot.
Backing a pair of Ragnarok Kickstarters, or the recent Skelos Magazine Kickstarters were some of the best reading investments I did.
Patreon is also worth a look – I am not patronising anyone2, but wait until my finances are settled…

51q093dsctlOh, and as we are in the 5 quid range – check out indie publishers and small presses on Amazon.
The 99 cents Megapacks from Wildside press are a case in point, but I got some absolutely stunning collections for under a fiver. Case in point, Beyond the Stars: At Galaxy’s Edge. 3.99$, smashing.

And talking about the edge of the Galaxy – Galaxy’s Edge is an online magazine edited by Mike Resnick that offers free SF stories. Their subscription fee is minimal, and you can still read a lot of their stuff free of charge.
Which brings us to magazines. Here prices are a little higher, but basically you subscribe and get 12 issues – so you pay about 1.50 per issue.
Look out for special offers. APEX Magazine is currently doing a subscription drive. You save money, you get an excellent magazine, lots of great stories.
beneath-ceaseless-skies-issue-212-cover-200x267I also subscribed recently to Beneath Ceasless Skies – another great magazine3. I had a windfall of sorts, a client shelling out an extra fifteen bucks for a quick-and-dirty job4. So I paid for a year of BCS, for a total of 26 issues.
That’s good worth for money.
And to me subscribing to magazine is also an investment, because I need to keep an eye on the market to sell my stories.

And I’m sure there is more, but I’ll cut this short here and wait for your suggestions.
Only one last thing…

I need to thank my readers that not only helped me pay my bills so far by buying my books, but also, sending along the occasional Amazon gift coupon, kept me reading (and therefore, sane) these six months.
Thank you guys.
And by the way – Amazon gift coupons can be used to pay for used books from third party vendors, too. And used 1 cent paperbacks are yet another way to keep reading while completely broke.

Have fun.
I’ll wait for your suggestions.

  1. incidentally, it looks like Amazon might be closing its doors at this kind of services, because some people exchanged books for domesticated, fake reviews. Suckers will always spoil the fun for everyone. 
  2. despite having recently been described as patronising 
  3. there’s an awful lot of great magazines out there, most of them also available in digital form for a lark. Check out the **Black Gate** “magazine rack” posts for suggestions. 
  4. yeah, it sounds dirty – it was a translation for a commercial letter. 




Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

9 thoughts on “How to keep reading while broke

  1. I’m old school – I still use the public library. (Mine also has ebooks that you can read online.) Unlimited free loans, ten at a time.

    Check this out – our public library now has sewing machines and robotics kits you can borrow, not just books. Alas, I can’t yet get these teleported to my house, you actually have to go downtown. 😉


    • You are lucky: I live in a very small village – the public library is staffed by a single volunteer, and just opens two hours on Saturday mornings. That, and their selection is somewhat limited.
      I guess that’s the reason why I totally forgot to mention libraries 🙂
      But you are right, great suggestion.
      And the bit about robotics is just great – I really envy you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Christmas before time | Karavansara

  3. I know a service similar to BookLemur – it’s called Bookbub. It’s nice because you can also choose the genres of books you’re interested about 🙂


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